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Mrs. Rumbold : Thank you, Mr. Speaker. For the benefit of the House, I should say that my hon. Friend was rightly saying how pleased and delighted she was that there are schools in her constituency which are becoming grant maintained and she believes that the parents, teachers and pupils will benefit from the excellence of those schools continuing to run as self-governing schools.
Mr. Jackson : I visited the Student Loans Company yesterday. It is making excellent progress. The company is well on course and the decision to locate in Scotland has been fully vindicated. I am confident that the company will offer an efficient service to students and value for money to the taxpayer.
Mr. McFall : Why does the application form require two referees? Is it to vet student suitability or is it, as the chief executive of the Student Loans Company said at Strathclyde university recently, to help the company to keep contact throughout the period of the loan? If it is the latter, how will this work in practice?
Mr. Jackson : It is quite normal to seek referees in these cases, and it is not a qualification for having a loan. I hope that the hon. Gentleman is not implying that the Student Loans Company should not make every effort to recoup for the taxpayer money lent to students to help to maintain them while they are studying.
Mr. Patrick Thompson : I congratulate my hon. Friend on the recently announced increase in the access funds to help students who may have particular difficulties. Can he say more about the administration of the funds and the present position?
Mr. Jackson : We hope that the funding councils will shortly be announcing the sum to be allocated to the institutions as access funds. The distribution of such funds by the institutions will be a matter for them to carry out at their own discretion. We believe that this will be a useful supplement to the resources that they have to assist their students.
Mr. Andrew Smith : Do not we face a serious accommodation crisis in polytechnics and universities as a consequence of this scheme, and in particular as a result of the Government's failure to announce the student loans regulations, details of the withdrawal of benefit or how the access funds are to operate, as the hon. Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Thompson) asked? As students and the institutions will pay the price for the Government's incompetence in introducing this ill-judged scheme, does the Minister owe it to them and to us to tell us what he intends to do about it?
Mr. Alan Howarth : The Department has supported expenditure of more than £56 million since July 1986 on a range of measures to combat teacher shortages. These include a bursary scheme to improve recruitment to initial teacher training, a substantial programme of publicity and advertising, and new routes into the profession aimed particularly at mature entrants.
Mr. Field : My hon. Friend and I are both believers in the free market. How can it be right, under the law of supply and demand, that when the nation demands more mathematicians, physicists and engineers we offer students studying those disciplines the same level of student grant, supported by the same level of student loan, as students studying sociology and politics, neither of which are endangered species?
Mr. Howarth : I shall confine my answer to recruitment to teacher training. We have responded to the reality that my hon. Friend's analysis highlights. While in an ideal world every teacher who is contributing in the best way that he can in a school would be paid on a comparable scale, the demand for people with skills in mathematics, technology and science in our modern and highly successful economy is growing all the time. Unless we can offer bursaries to encourage people to train in those subjects, we shall not have enough of them, just as we shall not have enough of them unless we can offer incentive allowances to them once they are qualified. The Government's policies take full account of that.
Mr. Win Griffiths : In subjects such as physics, chemistry and mathematics, there is a shortfall in graduates going into teacher training for this year, next year and the year after. Does the Minister accept that the Government have failed in their attempts to get teachers for those important subjects?
Let us consider the statistical realities. In 1989 recruitment to the secondary school shortage subjects of mathematics, physics, chemistry, craft, design and technology, and modern foreign languages was down by 0.5 per cent., but that does not represent a collapse. The hon. Gentleman will be aware from his membership of the Select Committee on Education, Science and Arts that we have an energetic programme, particularly the bursary scheme that I have already mentioned, to sustain recruitment. We saw the response last year to the introduction of the new chemistry bursary. Recruits to initial teacher training in chemistry have risen sharply. This year, following our introduction of a bursary for teacher-students of modern languages, the signs are once again that recruitment is on the upturn.
The Prime Minister (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher) : This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall be having further meetings later today. This evening I hope to have an audience of her Majesty the Queen.
Mr. Cummings : Will the Prime Minister find time this afternoon to consider the plight and anxiety of the many thousands of parents and carers of autistic and mentally handicapped children who are denied the mobility allowance? Does the Prime Minister understand the difficulties experienced by parents and carers when those children accompany them on public transport, given a somewhat unhappy and perhaps hostile public? Will the Prime Minister instruct her Secretary of State to put forward new regulations to enable the mobility allowance to be paid in such cases?
Column 132public. As the hon. Gentleman is aware, we have increased the amounts spent on mobility allowance by a colossal extent, but I cannot accept that at present we should extend it to those people. Under our disablement provisions we have increased the provision made for people who look after highly disabled children at home enormously, to the extent of about £65 a week.
Mr. Brown : Will my right hon. Friend confirm that in the event of Midland Montagu ever being given the opportunity to consider the cost of her Government's future economic policies it would never be able to say that those policies would cost an additional £50 billion of public expenditure per year.
Mr. Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman has been here a long time and he knows he must ask a question covering the Prime Minister's responsibility. She may answer that part which was of her responsibility.
The Prime Minister : I confirm that we are not likely to have policies which consist of spend now, pay later, which would only lead to much higher taxation, much higher borrowing and record inflation. Those were the Labour party's policies last time.
The Prime Minister : Sir Alan Walters is a friend of the family-- [Interruption.] --and I shall continue to see him as a friend of the family. It is astonishing that the right hon. Gentleman is so small-minded as to ask such a simple question.
"The successful conduct of economic policy is possible only if there is, and is seen to be, full agreement between the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Recent events have confirmed that this essential requirement cannot be satisfied as long as Sir Alan Walters remains your personal economic adviser"? With that in mind, should not the Prime Minister be more careful in her choice of family friends?
Mr. Hannam : Has my right hon. Friend seen the survey by Michael Porter, the Harvard economist, who has spent the past four years surveying the top 10 major economies? Is she heartened by his comment that there were few
Column 133economies which had been in such bad shape at the end of the 1970s and had recovered so quickly and dramatically as Britain's had during the 1980s?
The Prime Minister : Yes, I saw that excellent report. It pointed out that competitiveness and endeavour are the only way to bring prosperity and that we have brought prosperity to and have transformed Britain. We have record production, record investment, record incomes, record social services and a record number of jobs--an excellent record.
Mr. Ashdown : Does the Prime Minister recall that a week ago her Secretary of State for Trade and Industry said that he favoured a Europe in which we travelled in different directions, at different times and at whatever speed we liked, whereas yesterday her Foreign Secretary said that he wanted a Europe in which there was closer and closer integration? Which of those two contrary views represents Government policy?
The Prime Minister : The right hon. Gentleman struggles hard with his questions. With the coming of the common market, the complete single market for which we have worked hard over many years, there will be much closer integration in trading matters. With regard to other matters, we wish to see the sort of Community in which national Parliaments, particularly Parliaments such as this, play an important role in agreeing the policy of the Community.
Mr. Aitken : When the Cabinet comes later this week to its important decision on whether to subsidise the channel tunnel rail link, will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that the difference between the subsidised Eurorail high-speed line and the unsubsidised British Rail faster service on the improved existing line is likely to be merely a shorter travelling time by 20 minutes or so? Can she confirm that that relatively small saving of time can be achieved only by a funding by the taxpayer of several hundred million pounds? Does she accept the view of many of us that, public expenditure priorities being what they are, that sort of project is not worth it?
The Prime Minister : I agree that a colossal subsidy would be required. We take the view that international services should not have subsidies. We do not subsidise international air services or international ferry services, and we do not believe that we should subsidise an international rail service.
Mr. Bowis : Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is the experience of her Government that as she has been able to bring tax rates down, so the wealth has been generated to increase the tax take, which could be spent on services and those in need? Does she agree that if tax rates were to increase again, money could not be spent on those in need? Will she find time in her busy day to spend an hour or six explaining that basic economic truth to the Leader of the Opposition?
The Prime Minister : The answer to the latter part of my hon. Friend's question is no--my hon. Friend has done that. I agree with my hon. Friend that the top 10 per cent. of taxpayers now not only pay more in absolute terms than they did, but pay a greater proportion of the income tax yield. It used to be 35 per cent., but the top 10 per cent. of taxpayers now pay 40 per cent. of the yield, which has helped considerably to increase the prosperity of this country and enabled us to spend far more on the social services.
Mr. Robert Hughes : Does the Prime Minister share the growing public anxiety at the number of former Cabinet Ministers who obtain well-paid jobs in industries they were responsible for privatising, and if not, why not?
The Prime Minister : Successive Government have taken the view that it is valuable to the people of this country that those who have great experience in public affairs put their talents at the service of industry and those who have experience of industry put their talents at the service of the Government. When Lord Wilson was asked a similar question, and was asked to apply minimum waiting periods, he replied :
"these matters are better left to the discretion and good sense of the individuals concerned."--[ Official Report, 20 June 1968 ; Vol. 766, c. 171. ]
That has happened on both sides of the House and I share the noble Lord's views.
Mr. Malins : Does my right hon. Friend agree that traffic levels on roads in south London have reached intolerable levels and are likely to worsen in years to come? Does she further agree with many of my constituents in Croydon that efforts should be made to keep people off the roads and encourage them to use a much more efficient, faster and cheaper public transport system? Finally, will my right hon. Friend give consideration to a policy of road pricing, if appropriate, and also much tougher action against those who park so badly on many of our roads?
The Prime Minister : The level of traffic now coming into London reflects the enormous increase in prosperity. We are putting considerable resources--far more than ever before--into London Transport. We put about £540 million of investment this year into London Transport. Also, the Central line is being upgraded at a cost of £700 million. Those are large sums which should help to relieve the congestion on public transport.
Column 135The Prime Minister : If parents remove children from school, they usually do so because they are not satisfied with the education that the child is receiving. Every parent has the right to secure the best education possible for the child in the locality. The hon. Gentleman makes a great mistake to mix that up with racial matters.
Mr. Wilkinson : Has my right hon. Friend had time this morning to study the reported remarks of Mr. Po"hl, president of the German Bundesbank, who suggested yesterday that there could be a two-speed progression to European monetary union? Does my right hon. Friend envisage that the United Kingdom will be in the first group with France, the Federal Republic of Germany and the Benelux countries? If so, does not that mean that we should enter the exchange rate mechanism sooner rather than later?
The Prime Minister : With regard to the exchange rate mechanism, the conditions were laid down at Madrid. They have not changed. With regard to a two-speed Europe, I hope that there will not be a two-speed Europe. The House has made its views clear on Delors stage 3. It would have nothing to do with ceding that amount of sovereignty. After all, if one cedes sovereignty over all monetary and economic matters, one has ceded the fundamental core of the things that we are here to decide and, of course, that must be honoured. We have not yet got into discussing the EMU in the intergovernmental
Column 136conference. I hope that it will listen to the views of the House and of this Government, and may perhaps be influenced by them.
Mr. Cunliffe : Does the Prime Minister agree that it is completely indefensible that the chairmen of the five major building societies in this country should receive a 50 per cent. increase in salary when thousands of mortgage interest payers are out of their minds and straining their wits trying to meet interest rates which are the highest in our history, combined with an evil poll tax?
The Prime Minister : I believe that those chairmen and those at the top of industry and business should lead by example, and they should take those matters into account when they are negotiating wages and salaries with their own people.
Mr. Watts : In view of the exciting developments in eastern Europe, does my right hon. Friend agree that it is vital that the European Community keeps its doors to the east wide open, with the welcome mat clearly displayed, rather than becoming a much more exclusive club?
The Prime Minister : I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. Most of us hope that eventually the countries of eastern Europe will join the European Community. At the first stage they will have association agreements, but it would be wrong for the European Community to tie up its arrangements, directives and bureaucracies so much that it was made impossible for others to join. That would be a great mistake.
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